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Genealogy: Family Histories

Lawler signed Sussex incorporation

Dr. George W. Lawler was an imposing, important person in old Sussex and Lisbon. From about 1910-32, he was the community doctor. However, his big claim to importance was his signing the 1924 incorporation of Sussex as a village, along with 15 other Sussex-Templeton men.

Previously, he had been a heavyweight boxer of some promise and ability.

George W. was the child of Patrick and Catherine. They had five children born in the Old Country before they moved to Marquette, Mich. Then they had seven more children. George was the 10th, coming into this world April 15, 1874.

He left Marquette, Mich., at a young age to travel with his brother Charles. To make extra money in the 1890s, the brothers decided to get into prize fighting. They fought at lumber and mining camps in the Western United States.

George hooked up with one of the world's great fighters, Bob Fitzsimmons, a world-renowned boxer. Fitzsimmons, an Irish man from New Zealand, was the world heavyweight champion from 1897 to 1899. He also held the world's middle-weight title from 1891-96. Following those exploits, he reigned from 1903-05 as the light heavyweight champ of the world. George traveled with Fitzsimmons as a trainer/sparring partner. He was described as 6 feet 3 inches or 6 feet 4 inches, and of powerful build.

George Sr.'s son, George Jr., said, " Dad was pretty successful in many of his boxing bouts. He met Gentleman Jim Corbett, Jim Jeffers and other great fighters of that era. He was considered a contender for the world's heavyweight championship in the 1890s and after the turn of the century."

He added, "However, he came down with typhoid fever. It wore him down. After a year, and because of his age, he decided to give up fighting."

After his retirement from fighting, George Sr. traveled to Milwaukee to visit a sister. He was looking for something to go into when he decided to attend medical school at Marquette University. Meanwhile, his brother also gave up fighting.

Soon after graduating in 1908, by 1910 he had established himself in the rural village of Sussex, ministering to Sussex, Templeton and Lisbon residents.

In medical practice, he became involved with a prominent local business and farming family, the Lees family. When he was summoned to the Edgar Lees home for a medical visit, he met a daughter, Lilly Lees, and they were married March 4, 1916.

Four children were born to George and Lilly: George Jr., William, Paul and Blanche. The three boys lived, but the daughter, Blanche, born in 1925, died of meningitis in February 1927. She was laid to rest in the Lawler church's cemetery (St. James Catholic Church, Lannon).

The three surviving boys were educated at the Sussex Main Street School. The Lawlers lived in the former home of Sussex millionaire Richard Weaver, immediately west of Maple Avenue on Main Street. Today, this former home and barn/livery stable are gone. In its place is the Sussex Square Office Building.

In 1924, businessman John P. Kramer prevailed upon Lawler to back the incorporation of the Village of Sussex. Sixteen prominent men put their signatures to the petition, and Sussex separated from the Town of Lisbon on Sept. 15, 1924.

Meanwhile the Lawler family got into the habit of acquiring a lot of property in Sussex. Wife, Lilly, was important in this acquisition as, a member of the Lees family, which had a local merchandizing/banking background. She was also the heiress of part of the Lees money and real estate.

Retrospect, Feb. 4, 2015: Lawler helped with Sussex beginnings

In May 2013, I wrote a two series in "Retrospect" about a former Sussex-Lisbon community medical doctor, George Lawler.

Something of a big-time traveler of the United States as a youth, he settled down just after the turn of the 20th century and, while on a visit to his sister in Milwaukee, he took stock of his vagabond lifestyle and attended Marquette University and became a medical doctor.

An imposing man, reputed to be somewhere north of 6 feet, 3 inches tall, he came to Sussex about 1910 and became the community doctor. He had a home in the former Richard Weaver house where today one sees the big office building at the corner of Maple Avenue and Main Street, known at the Sussex Office Building.

While on a professional call, Lawler was summoned to the Edgar Lees homestead farm on Maple Avenue (Sumac and Butternut Lane today) and met the daughter, Lilly Lees. They had an attraction and soon wedding bells were ringing with the ceremony at St. James Catholic Church. Lawler had married into the No. 1 family of Sussex-Templeton. He and Lilly started acquiring property, by purchase and by inheritance.

In a 1930s-early 1940s property map, the Lawler-Lees family had no less than nine separate properties, including all four properties on the northwest corner of Maple Avenue and Main Street, plus what is today the Piggly Wiggly store and parking lot area.

Then there was the former Edgar Lees farm on Maple Avenue.

The extended Lees family was into farming, the general store and and banking in the community.

Lawler was a big man in Sussex and he and his wife had four children, three boys and a girl, Blanche, but she died of meningitis at age 2 in 1927. Meanwhile, the three boys were progressing through the Sussex Main Street School.

The big moment in Dr. Lawler's life came as John Kraemer of the Mammoth Spring Canning Company was in the process of getting together 16 men to successfully sign a petition to incorporate Sussex and Templeton into the village of Sussex during the summer of 1924. Signing besides Kraemer and Lawler were Frank Grogan, Henry Woodchick, Paul Schroeder, Charles Wilden, William Russell, Carl Marx, J. W. Cannon, George Neumueller, William Edwards, George Podolske, James, Booth, Fred Stier, J. C. Lingelbach and another medical doctor, C. D. Greulich.

Lawler was a respected medical doctor in Sussex; however, when it came to his three living boys, he wished for something special for them and as they matured at Sussex Main Street School and Two-Year High School, he made a family decision to move to the city of Waukesha so they could go to Waukesha High School without any transportation hassles.

After my feature on Lawler was republished in Land Mark Magazine by the Waukesha County Historical Society in March 2014, I received a phone call from the leader of Marquette University High School, the Rev. Thomas Lawler, asking me if I was the writer of the family history of George Lawler. I admitted that I was and then proceeded to tell him that I had attended and graduated from Marquette University High School, Class of 1950.

Thomas Lawler said he was the grandson of George Lawler and Lilly and his father was Dr. Paul Lawler. We had a long talk about Marquette High, the Lawler family and how small the world is that I would meet Thomas Lawler, student of MUHS and leader of MUHS, respectively, and that I would write about his family, just as he was doing an in-depth family history, with a particular interest on Dr. George Lawler.

Shortly, I exchanged letters with Thomas Lawler, where I included a print-out copy of the Land Mark Magazine. His father, Paul, had become a psychiatrist, while Bill and George had become big-time World War II Pacific was participants and, on leaving the service, they both became district attorneys in the city of Waukesha and Waukesha County.

I also acquired a family photo of mother Lilly with her three boys that I received from Waukesha historian John Schoenknecht, which I forwarded to Thomas Lawler.


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